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cover imageContinuing a strong and consistent period of activity that began in earnest with the third installment of the Read & Burn series, the legendary band's 14th album is yet another high water mark in their expansive (and extremely impressive) discography.  Primary songwriting duo Colin Newman and Graham Lewis provide 11 all new songs that blend their artistic obtuseness with catchy songwriting and melodies, the type of sound that made Chairs Missing and The Ideal Copy so brilliant.  With Robert Grey's steady drumming and an expanded role for guitarist Matt Simms, Wire is full of moments that are weird, sometimes challenging, but always fascinating and memorable.

Pink Flag

The last album proper, 2013's Change Becomes Us, did not sit too well with me then and even now; two years and multiple listens later, I still have mixed feelings about it.  The 2010’s shiny, polished incarnation of Wire taking on the confrontational Document and Eyewitness material, with all its bootleg quality harshness felt like an uncomfortable combination.  Between that, and the slightly less-Wire Red Barked Tree, which at times was more reminiscent of a Colin Newman solo album, I was not sure what to expect coming into this one.

The first few songs reminded me more than a bit of Red Barked Tree, in that they were catchy and poppy songs, but not significantly memorable.  "Shifting" has Newman in his A Bell is a Cup era vocal style paired with light guitars and a nice melody.  It is pleasant and enjoyable, but when it was over, it did not stick with me.  The same goes for "Burning Bridges," with its mid pace and slightly processed vocals.  "Blogging" fares better with its killer Graham Lewis bass lead and synth flourishes, but lyrics rife with internet namedropping paired with Biblical references comes across as mix of clever and too clever.

The lyrically obtuse "In Manchester" is where the album picked up for me.  The airy vocals and productions mixed with the faster pace immediately made me think, at least structurally, of "Follow the Locust."  With Lewis taking the lead on lyrics on this album (although sadly he does not have any full length vocal performances here), "In Manchester" and many of the other songs are as lyrically abstract and surreal as the best of Wire’s output.  The song blends nicely into the pulsing keyboards underscoring the sub-two minute "High," which has a similar structure, but a wonderful, infectious flow that simply ends too soon.

Released as a teaser for the album, "Joust & Jostle" is another winner in which the pacing of something like "Spent" or much of Pink Flag is flirted with, but in more of a restrained, pop-focused structure.  On "Swallow" it seems like the band is looking back at "Heartbeat" as inspiration for the opening, though the finished product is not nearly as sparse or minimalist.  "Octopus" features an always-appreciated bit of Graham Lewis backing vocals, and has the lighter feel of the album, while still blending in some more dissonant elements both sonically and structurally.

I was most pleased by the two lengthy pieces placed roughly at the middle and end of the record.  "Sleep-Walking" hints at the sonic mystery and intrigue of "Ally in Exile" but with a more unconventional approach to the rhythmic structure compared to the remainder of the record, and an overall obtuse structure that was heavily sourced from improvisation.  The concluding "Harpooned" takes on a more dirge-like pace, with an uglier guitar sound and a more sprawling arrangement that harkens more to the early days of Wire.  While it is not as 'out there' as something like "Crazy About Love," it is the closest they have been in years.  As I have mentioned in many previous reviews, I like my Wire weird and obtuse, while still being catchy and melodic, and both of these two manage to do that in a way that has been absent from recent albums.



Last Updated on Monday, 13 April 2015 06:42  


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